A few days in the Okanagan, 23-25 Jul 2007

How to make a rainy Sunday sunnier
Summer is passing and we haven’t had a holiday of any sort since Maria started her job at the end of February. We need a little downtime… And some sunshine as the summer has been kinda crappy up to now. (It’s been fine in the week and then rainy at the weekend.) We plump for a trip east into the Okanagan. Sure enough, the Saturday is as wet as any in November and we spend it relaxing and collecting what we need for our trip. Sunday morning, we set off around 11 am and leave the rain behind. A steady drive up the Fraser Valley and into Manning Park and then it’s new road! We follow the Similkameen River as it winds its way east out of the park, through Princeton and then diagonally down towards the US border. The route beyond Princeton quickly became one of my favourite drives. Nice quick road, not much traffic, scenic mountains and river.

We were in no hurry and spent a leisurely afternoon drive taking in the surroundings, watching the landscape change from familiar rain forest to drier pine and sage-brush territory. We drove through Keremeos, passing the first of many orchards. Beyond, the Similkameen turned south into the US and the steep valley sides receded to be replaced by more rounded hills. We passed the Spotted Lake (though we didn’t know that’s what it was at the time) and descended into Osoyoos, pulling in at the Tourist Information Centre.

We got out of the car and the heat hit us. So much warmer than it had been in Vancouver. Suddenly we weren’t sure if we wanted to be that hot! We collected a pile of leaflets and headed north through the Okanagan Valley looking for a suitable campground. We had identified a few provincial park campgrounds and decided to check them out in turn to see which one we liked the look of. First up was Inkaneep, a small uninspiring little campground which had space but let’s just say that the inmates didn’t look like the kind of neighbours we wanted while camping… On then to Vaseux Lake. Much better, right on the lake shore but also right on the main road. We almost stayed there but decided to move on to our last option, Okanagan Falls. We drove into the campground, sandwiched between high rocky bluffs and the Okanagan River and decided to go for the spot by the entrance (admittedly with backing right onto the road, but not much traffic). Within 10 minutes the remaining two spots were occupied! That was good timing…!

South Okanagan, 23–25 Jul 2007
With our tent pitched, we cooked dinner and relaxed, taking a wander along the river bank at dusk.

The Monday Forecast: Hot
A sunny morning coaxed us out of our sleeping bags and breakfast. I wandered up the road taking a few photos. Our first stop of the day was the Desert Center back down in Osoyoos (40 km south). We pulled up just before 11 am, paid our admission and joined the tour. The thermometer in the shade read 30 C. And it felt it. Out on the tour there was no shade so we were glad of our hats. An hour later the tour was done and we felt educated about the state of the Okanagan desert landscape. Or what’s left of it. Most of it is now irrigated as orchard or vineyard. A number of animals which used to live there are locally extinct because they need large areas to survive. The American badger exemplifies this: they last had a badger on that land a couple of years ago, but it had to wander to find a mate, about 20 miles away in the next valley! With several roads to cross, it’s no wonder that these animals are endangered.

South Okanagan, 23–25 Jul 2007

By now we were absolutely roasting hot and needed somewhere to cool off, so we headed into Osoyoos and for Haynes Point provincial park to have a dip in the lake. Apparently Osoyoos Lake is the warmest in Canada. I dread to think what the temperature is in the others… It still took some effort on our part to brave the water, but before long we were in happily swimming around. Lunch and then more time sitting around just plain chilling out :-) Much needed. We were roused by the prospect of gelato courtesy of Osoyoos Gelato, before heading across the lake to our second desert experience of the day at the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre. It’s pronounced In-ka-meep.

I was a bit wary at the entrance fee, but in the end was really glad we went in, and I would visit it again to catch the bits we missed (it closed at 4 pm). The centre is a celebration of local native history. Highlights included the hummingbird feeder and the rattlesnake. But some of the sculpture used to illustrate the cultural history was excellent, great art work in its own right let alone as props. There was also a short hiking trail to wander around the desert land a bit more and the chance to visit a recreated village setting with teepee and round house. We got back to the visitor centre just as they were closing.

South Okanagan, 23–25 Jul 2007

We took a steady drive back to the camp ground and cooked before settling down in the evening to watch a lovely sunset and moonrise.

Sun, Sand and Tuesday
Another warm morning. We headed north towards Penticton, and took the road to Naramata on the east side of Okanagan Lake. Here we grabbed some lunch at the cafe (nice place) and headed to the beach at Manitou Park. We bagged a shady spot at the far end of the beach and plonked ourselves down to take in the view across the lake. We sat and read for a while before the water lured us in for a swim. We managed to get in more quickly than yesterday and spent quite a while swimming around, heading out to the marker buoys at the edge of the designated area and then I swam over to a diving platform covered in small children. The kids were amazing, jumping/falling in, swimming back, and climbing back onto the platform to do it all again. It took me a few minutes to pluck up the courage but eventually I dived in with an almighty splash.

South Okanagan, 23–25 Jul 2007

Time for lunch back under our shady spot. We grabbed an iced coffee and then headed out for a hike. We made our way up the hill from Naramata to the Kettle Valley Railway. We pulled on our boots and headed off in search of the Little Tunnel, known as the most romantic place in the Okanagan. Well, with that kind of accolade we just had to find it. From where we parked the car it was just over 4 km along the bed of the old railway to the tunnel. The route was mostly straight and flat, but the views over Okanagan Lake were spectacular, even if we were beginning to wilt in the heat. After about an hour we reached the tunnel and, yes, I suppose that it could be described as a romantic place, especially with its westward views. It would certainly be a good place to watch the sun set.

South Okanagan, 23–25 Jul 2007

A steady trog back to the car and then we drove back to Penticton before taking the road along the east side of Skaha Lake. Part of that side of the lake has a wildlife refuge for Bighorn Sheep and we spent a few minutes scanning the hillsides for anything that looked like a sheep. Of course we saw nothing and so we continued our scenic drive back to the tent for dinner. And another beautiful sunset and moonrise…

Wednesday
Our last morning. We re-packed the car and, on the advice of the camp host, we drove up Green Lake road behind the campground, taking the back road towards Penticton. I wanted to drive past the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory (DRAO), which has its radio telescopes located up in a quiet valley near White Lake and this was the perfect opportunity. The day was clear and sunny again, and we left around 10am.

The road climbed up to the Green Lake winery, with superb views over the Okanagan valley. We will have to return as the wine-tasting here takes place on the balcony, allowing the views to be part of the experience. We passed Green Lake which was beautiful, a truly unreal colour in the otherwise dry and parched landscape. Then we joined a great twisty little road to climb some more before levelling out in the wide-open White Lake valley. We stopped for a moment and got out of the car and heard… nothing. There was little or no wind, and no sound from anything else. Unbelievably quiet! Until a Harley rode by :-)

We continued on to the DRAO, parking at the gate to take a walk onto the grounds to take a look at the telescopes. In addition to the obvious-looking telescopes, the DRAO is (was) the location of the world’s largest 22 MHz array, essentially a huge area strung with wire, looking more like a vast washing line complex than a radio telescope! It’s no longer used, because human-generated radio interference at such low frequencies swamps the signal from astronomical sources. The main work is done by the 7-element interferometer, which spends most of its time operating at about 1.4 GHz (21 cm). Each telescope is 9 m (30 feet) in diameter. Finally there is the larger 26-m telescope, which is used in conjunction with the smaller dishes of the interferometer to improve the image quality of extended emission. It was fun to wander around and take a few touristy photographs.

South Okanagan, 23–25 Jul 2007

We drove on again, joining the main road a few km out of Penticton, then through Penticton, and out to the shores of Okanagan Lake. The first part of the route along the lake shore was right next to the water, the highway bounded on the other side by steep cliffs. We stopped at one of several small provincial parks to have a snack overlooking the lake, before heading in to Summerland to head up to the top of the Giant’s Head. Sounds simple, but we drove round for a while looking for directions before taking a road out of town which led all the way around the Giant’s Head, eventually leading us to a signposted road to the way up. We hadn’t expected to be able to drive all the way up, but the road was closed right at the bottom due to storm damage from heavy rain a few nights earlier (just before we arrived in the Okanagan). So now we had to walk all the way up, along the road (still safe to walk along) in the mid-day sun. Hmmm, more than we had planned.

It was hot, really hot and we doubted our sanity for much of the trek up. It was only a couple of km, but with over 300 m of elevation to gain with no shade it was hard work. Eventually we reached some shade at the car park near the top, stopped for a break before heading on to the top. Only another 5 or 10 minutes later and we were on the summit! And it was suddenly all worth it. The views were amazing. The summit had some odd-looking tubes pointing in different directions, and it took us a minute to work out that they were in fact sighting tubes with labels of what you were looking at! What a great idea! We could see the Little Tunnel on the opposite side of the lake, Naramata, part of the Kettle Valley Railway, and more.

South Okanagan, 23–25 Jul 2007

We picked a shady lunch spot and enjoyed a leisurely break with the view before us. Then it was the much quicker walk back down for a cold drink in an air-conditioned cafe. Oh so welcome. Moving on out of Summerland, our next destination was Peachland. We stopped along the way to cool off our feet in the lake one last time, and took a look across the water to the extensive fire damage in Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park. Back on the road, we took our detour along the waterfront through Peachland before taking the plunge (so to speak) to get on the road for our final drive home.

And a long peaceful drive it was too. The first stretch of highway drove over the Thompson plateau, with no settlements for 120 km until we reached Merritt. A brief stop at the tourist information centre in Merritt and then on again, another 120 km of unsettled countryside through the Coquihalla pass until Hope. This section is one of the most spectacular drives we’ve ever done, with massive granite peaks towering above the highway as it descends towards the Fraser Valley. Our hike books have a few hikes listed out that way: I think we’ll be coming back!

Another couple of hours and we were home, the car unpacked and the kettle on for a cup of tea. A wonderfully relaxing couple of days. Next time we’ll go to taste some wine!

Photos on Flickr.

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